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Frequently Asked Questions
In Seattle, a building, object, or structure may be eligible to be listed as a historic landmark if it is more than 25 years old and the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board determines it fits one or more of these categories:
It is the location of or is associated in a significant way with an historic event with a significant effect upon the community, city, state, or nation
It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the city, state, or nation
It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, city, state or nation
It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, period, or a method of construction
It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder
Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or city.
Owners who think their property might meet these criteria can nominate the property as a landmark by contacting the Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0228. See the Official City of Seattle Landmarks for examples of the nearly 200 properties that have been nominated and designated as landmarks. Properties may also be eligible for listing by the State of Washington or in the National Register of Historic Places. (See What is the National Register of Historic Places?)
The Seattle City Council designates a historic neighborhood as a preservation district at the request of the people who live and own businesses there or, in the case of the Pike Place Market, voters across the city. Working with the local community, the Council establishes guidelines and a special preservation review board of neighborhood representatives to protect significant architectural features and sometimes the use of buildings and structures in the district. Seattle has seven preservation districts, each with a special flavor and each with neighbors working together to protect the characteristics that make their community a unique place. These districts include the Ballard Avenue Landmark District, Columbia City Landmark District, Fort Lawton Landmark District, Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, International Special Review District, Pike Place Market Historical District, and Pioneer Square Preservation District. The seven districts are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places with slightly different boundaries. (See What is the National Register of Historic Places?)
One writer, Steven Tiesdell in Revitalizing Historic Urban Quarters, answers this question by describing seven key benefits that historic preservation offers.
Aesthetic value - "Old buildings and towns are valued because they are intrinsically beautiful or because they have a scarcity value .In a world of rapid change, visible and tangible evidence of the past may also be valued for the sense of place and continuity it conveys."
Architectural diversity - "The aesthetic appeal of an historic place may result from the combination or juxtaposition of many buildings rather than the individual merits of any particular building."
Environmental diversity - "there is often a stimulating contrast between the human scale environment of a historic quarter [district] and the monumental scale of the more modern central business district."
Functional diversity - "a diverse range of different types of space in buildings of varying ages, enables a mix of uses...Historic areas may offer lower rents that allow economically marginal but socially important activities to have a place in the city."
Resource value - "Whether beautiful, historic or just plain practical, buildings may be better used than replaced the reuse of buildings constitutes the conservation of scarce resources, a reduction in the consumption of energy and materials in construction, and good resource management."
Continuity of cultural memory / heritage value - "Visible evidence of the past can contribute educationally to the cultural identity and memory of a particular people or place, giving meaning to the present by interpreting the past."
Economic and commercial value - "Historic buildings usually possess scarcity, [which] can present opportunities for tourism." Coupled with tax and other incentives the cost of utilizing them is often lower than for other alternatives.
There are fewer restrictions than you might think since the goal is to manage change, not to eliminate it. Protection is provided by review and approval of modifications to the exteriors and, in some cases, the interiors of buildings. In other cases, building use is monitored. Review guidelines and the process of applying for a Certificate of Approval to make a change vary depending on the district or landmark. Consult the Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0228 or the Internet homepage for the preservation district where your property is located.
If you plan to make any change to the exterior of a structure in a preservation district or to a landmark, contact the Historic Preservation Program as early as possible so we can recommend next steps. In some cases, as in the Pike Place Market, changes to the interior also require approval. You may visit our offices or call (206) 684-0228 for additional questions. See Getting Approval to Alter a Historic Property for a description of the approval process.
See Official City of Seattle Landmarks and the map on the Historic Preservation homepage that shows where the districts are located.
Anyone can nominate a building, structure, or object by submitting a completed nomination format to the Historic Preservation Program. The landmark designation process consists of nomination, designation, negotiation of a Controls and Incentives Agreement between the owner and the city, and adoption of an ordinance by the Seattle City Council. See What is the process for nominating a landmark? for details.
The Historic Preservation Program, part of the Department of Neighborhoods, oversees historic preservation. Its primary objectives are to encourage the rehabilitation and reuse of historic properties for public and private use; to promote the recognition, protection and enhancement of landmark buildings, objects and sites of historic, architectural and cultural significance in Seattle; and to identify, protect, preserve and perpetuate the cultural, economic, historical and architectural qualities of historic landmarks and districts throughout the City.
Division staff support the Landmarks Preservation Board and the boards and commissions tied to the seven preservation districts. They also assist in developing and implementing the City's historic preservation policies and programs. Karen Gordon, (206) 684-0381, is the Historic Preservation Officer and Director of the Historic Preservation Program.
A good place to start is the Puget Sound Regional Repository of the Washington State Archives, (206) 439-3785. The archives contains King County Property Tax Records ("PR"s) from the late 1930s to early 1940s, most with photographs the archivists will send to you for a small fee.
The King County Cultural Resources Division has a useful guide to "Researching Historic Houses" which also applies to commercial buildings. Call (206) 296-7580 and ask for Technical Paper No. 5.
The Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority offers a lecture series, "Preserving Your Old House," that includes tips on researching a house's history. The office will also mail printed information on the topic. Call (206) 622-6952 for details.
If the property is listed as a Seattle landmark or is within a Seattle preservation district, contact the Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0228 for a copy of the landmark nomination form which includes much historical information.
If the property is listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places, contact the State of Washington's Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation at (360) 586-3065 to order a copy of the nomination form.
The National Register of Historic Places is the authoritative guide used by federal, state, and local governments, private groups, and citizens to identify the nation's significant historic resources. While the actual register (or list) is maintained by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, in Washington, D.C., the program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) in each state. Many Seattle properties (including buildings, structures, sites, objects and districts) are listed in the National Register through a nomination process involving review by the State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) in Olympia and subsequent formal actions by the State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the SHPO. Nominations are reviewed and recommended to the National Register based on firmly established criteria used to evaluate the property's significance in American history, architecture, engineering, archaeology and culture as well as its integrity in terms of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship. First authorized under the1935 Historic Sites Act, the National Register was expanded to the current program under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
Since the late 1960s, over 140 of Seattle's historic and cultural resources - including individual buildings, archeological sites, bridges, ships and seven preservation districts - have been listed in the National Register. In fact, the Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market preservation districts were among the first National Register districts in the nation to be listed. Investment tax credits, facade easements, and grants-in-aid are among the incentives for National Register properties. See What benefits do I receive for owning a Seattle landmark property or property in a preservation district?
The Washington State Register of Historic Places was established in 1967 to recognize valuable buildings and sites which are considered to be significant to the State but do not qualify for listing in the National Register. (All National Register properties are automatically listed in the State register.) OAHP administers the State Register and coordinates historic preservation programs statewide.
The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 created the current National Register of Historic Places program. NHPA also included provisions known as Section 106 Review that ensure that historic properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register are considered during Federal project planning and execution.
In order to expedite this federal review process at the local level, the City of Seattle entered into a Programmatic Memorandum of Agreement with the State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Based on this agreement, the City's Historic Preservation Program has authority to evaluate project proposals and, in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), make formal decisions related to Section 106 Review. This expedited review is limited to those projects that utilize federal funding and assistance available through the City's Department of Housing and Human Services.
Section 106 Review involves determining whether a federally permitted, licensed, or funded project affects any historic resources and, if so, how to minimize that effect. This review is mandated by the NHPA and is the trade-off that a property owner or project proponent must make in order to take advantage of federal funding or assistance.
Step 1: Determination of Eligibility
Step 2: Determination of Effect
Every effort is made at the local level to resolve any conservation or preservation issues and to mitigate any potential damaging impacts. When there is a failure to agree on appropriate conservation or preservation approaches, differences are resolved through consultation between all interested parties and the preparation of a Memorandum of Agreement between those parties, OAHP, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.